Xmas Brings a “Miracle on Choate Street”

by jim on December 17, 2018

Blue Star “Recycling” exposed by citizens and

reporter as one big illegal asphalt dumping

ground in South Dallas

City forces closure…once it finds out about it

The view from Marsha Jackson’s backyard

Last week there was what you might describe as a kind of South Dallas Christmas Miracle Story – as in, “It was a miracle the city finally did anything to stop that crap.”

For a blow-by-blow account of how it all went down, you can read Dallas Morning News city columnist Robert Wilonsky’s account in two separate installments that ran in last Thursday’s and Friday’s paper here and here.

They tell the saga of Marsha Jackson’s one-woman fight to save her home of almost 30 years from being swallowed up by huge mountains of asphalt and used shingles by a company claiming to recycle them. A company that only popped up in the last 12 months or so and has completely destroyed her quality of life.

No photos or video can do her situation justice. Towering 3-5 story piles of what looks like coal dust are looming over her house, right up to the fence line that’s broken because of them. Heavy-duty diesel equipment is everywhere and in constant motion, moving piles of asphalt chips and shingles around. Large shingle-shredding machines spit out chips from both ends. A foul-smelling asphalt cooking operation adds a sulfuric haze. It goes on well into the night.

Ms. Jackson has been complaining about this situation to everyone, from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the City of Dallas, for over a year. Despite her best efforts those complaints never got heard or acted upon. It might have remained that way for a good while longer.

Instead, what happened to Ms. Jackson is the kind of thing that usually only happens in movies.

On November 13th, Ms. Jackson met tenacious Temeckia Durrough of the Joppa Freedman’s Township Association at a community meeting about the new Lane Plating Superfund site in South Dallas. They exchanged their own outrages. Temeckia invited Ms. Jackson to come to the next Let Joppa Breathe Alliance meeting on December 4th to tell her story and add some people power.

She did and then she begin sending photos and video of what was right outside her window. Those prompted visits to collect our own evidence. Sprawling over multiple acres, artificial ridges of asphalt bits and and shingles ring the site and come right up to the edge of a creek that flows into the Trinity River a short distance away. There’s nothing to keep those piles from sliding into the creek and sure enough, that’s what’s been happening over the last year.

Exasperated by the actual site, Downwinders then reached out to a handful of local reporters capable of throwing a hot and heavy spotlight on an injustice. Please help this woman living under/on top of a growing giant asphalt blob was the subject line of our December 10th plea. We suspected the only way to cut through all the reasons why nobody could help Ms. Jackson was to expose the fact that nobody was helping her.

To his credit Dallas native Robert Wilonsky, city columnist for the Dallas Morning News, answered the call. He went out to Marsha Jackson’s house and like everyone else except the agencies who are supposed to be outraged by this kind of thing, was indeed outraged. And that’s when things started to happen.

After trying to get basic information on Blue Star from Dallas City Hall he was even madder. Like the rest of us mere citizens, he was told he’d have to file an Open Acts Request – just to see the city inspection files, certificate of occupancy, etc. But maybe the reason the City didn’t want anyone looking is because Blue Star didn’t have ANY of the necessary paperwork to do what it’s doing, as Wilonsly later found out.

Because he was snooping around City Hall, Wilonsky was contacted by District 8 City Council Member Tennell Atkins on Wednesday, December 12th. Wilonsky urged Atkins to look into the awful situation…in his own council district. That he’d been getting complaints about for months.

But after a visit, code compliance officer in tow, Atkins was full of righteous indignation. As was the Dallas Office of Environmental Quality and (Rockefeller) Sustainability, whose Director only learned about Blue Star from Wilonsky in passing…on Thursday the 13th, when Wilonsly’s first column on Blue Star went up in the early afternoon.

By Friday, December 14th, a month and a day after Marsha Jackson and Temeckia Durrough first met,  the City was filing motions in court to close Blue Star down for at least a week. Considering how much official paperwork is lacking on the site, the fact that it’s the subject of an on-going TCEQ investigation, and is sorely liable to lawsuits by its neighbors, let’s hope it never opens again.

We don’t know how those huge piles are going to get cleaned-up yet but at least they’re not being added to. For now, the activity on the site that was a constant nuisance and health threat to Marsha Jackson has ceased.

In less than seven days the phone calls and emails of the most widely read local columnist for the only daily in town won a victory that months of campaigning through official channels by an ordinary citizen had been unable to pull off. Time and again the system let Marsha Jackson down until that institutional failure was the story that made the outrage stop.

Call it Ms. Jackson’s own hard-won Christmas Miracle.

Was it not for her persistence, this series of unlikely events could not have happened. Were it not each supporting link in the chain along the way – Ms. Douglas’ fateful invitation to Jackson to attend a community meeting, our gigging local journalists, one of those journalists actually being interested – there would be no happy ending to report yet. That’s how tenuous environmental justice is in Dallas.

Besides showing the rewards of desperate determination, it was a lesson in grassroots perspectives for Reporter Wilonsky as well. Like most of us, he was dumbstruck by the fact that you can’t simply make an appointment to show up at City Hall, sit down, and read the official records on a company doing business next to you. Like many of you, he found out firsthand how passive the City is toward on-going disasters like the one next door to Ms. Jackson…until they become fodder for a front page column.

But we can’t depend on a single reporter to do the work of whole agencies, no matter how influential. This was the exception that proves the rule.

Even while the spotlight shone brightly on Blue Star, a hearing on a zoning change allowing a new concrete batch plant right around the corner was taking place at City Hall with a recommendation by city staff that it be approved. It’s one of two being sought in the same stretch of SM Wright freeway, which isn’t too far from the new Lane Plating Superfund Site, which isn’t too far from the TAMKO asphalt roofing shingles factory, the large Union Pacific switch yard, the Austin Asphalt plant and the Redi-Mix batch plant in Joppa. Fortunately, citizens were there to stop that mistake from happening as well.

Instead of seeing these as individual facilities like City Hall does, they should be seen as symptoms of the same problem of obsolete racist zoning plaguing South Dallas. As long as heavy industry is allowed to plop down next to homes in a way not allowed in east or north Dallas, you’ll see wave after wave of Blue Stars and batch plants targeting this area.

A wholesale examination of industrial zoning, of zoning that pollutes, should be taking place at Dallas City Hall as part of its revamped Economic Development policy.  In the same way that the City recently said it won’t be a party to adding to concentrations of poverty through the siting of low income housing, it should also be policy not to add to concentrations of pollution in neighborhoods already absorbing more than their fair share. This requires a proactive perspective that has no sign of showing up within the ranks of the Office of Environmental Quality and (Rockefeller) Sustainability staff any time soon. That means residents are going to have to do this themselves – despite staff.

Just like Ms. Jackson, they’re going to have to be persistent in their demands. They’re going to have to stay focused. And maybe, just maybe if the right combination of chords can be struck, in the right sequence, at the right time, another more far-reaching chorus of “Hallelujah” can be sung in praise of a civic miracle. This time for all of South Dallas.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Temeckia Derrough December 18, 2018 at 3:59 pm

Marry Christmas Ms.Jackson….. Thank everyone who sent in letters and calls,but mostly Thank Dallas Morning News for keep the people of Dallas voices heard on the injustice in community south of Hwy 30….

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